The US’ Unyielding Gun Problem
The second amendment, ratified in December of 1792, to the United States Constitution states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
In the past nine days, there have been four incidents of mass murder in American cities. One in Brooklyn, New York that left one person dead and 12 injured and one at a festival in Gilroy, California that left four dead and 12 injured. In less than 24 hours this weekend, America experienced two mass shootings. One at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas and another at a bar in Dayton, Ohio. Combined, 29 people were killed and 43 were injured. In 2019 alone, there have been 251 mass shootings resulting in 271 deaths and 1036 people injured within the United States.
Ever since the phrase “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands” was popularized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the 1970’s, gun control conversation in America has grown increasingly combative. In fact, healthy dialogue is practically non-existent.
Gun control is more polarizing than universal health care, taxes, and free college – combined. And over the past few years, mass murder has become more associated with immigration and race than anything else. The race of victims of mass murder vary. However, according to Statista.com, between 1982 and May of 2019, roughly 56% of mass murders have been perpetrated by white shooters, totalling 62 out of the 111 shootings considered.
According to a 2018 report by the Rand Corporation, there is no definition of “mass murder.” Rand points out that, in the 80s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defined “mass murder” as someone who “kills four or more people (not including himself) in a single incident and location.” The government itself has never defined mass murder. There is also no universally accepted definition of it among the media or in academia.
This leaves a wide berth of interpretation among journalists, media outlets, academics, pro/anti-gun groups and law enforcement. As you might expect, this results in a wide range of emotional conversations, depending on your stance on gun control.
Mass murders are typically categorized as “active shooters” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An “active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area…” The FBI reports that mass murders, or “active shooter incidents” are on the rise.
Now you might think that even the most zealous of gun owners and Second Amendment supporters in America might find school shootings troublesome. Perhaps even prompt some kind of legislative action. In reality, the data suggests a different story.
Similar to the nebulous definition of mass murder, the definition, or interpretation, of “school shooting” can vary. However, it’s not uncommon for most media and agencies to treat any shooting on school property as a “school shooting.”
Using that rubric, to date in 2019, there have been 22 school shootings which have resulted in death or injury. According to a recent report by CNN, data indicates that school shootings, just like mass murder, are increasing. The school shooting data covers 2009-2018. There are many ways in which one can examine the data. However, any way you look at it, it’s alarming.
Whatever party resides in the White House loves comparing themselves to their predecessor. With that said, President Barack Obama took office in January of 2009, at the peak of the financial crisis and great strife in the country. President Donald Trump took office in January of 2017, as unemployment was at record lows and the economy was in fine condition.
In the first two years of the Obama administration, there were 21 school shootings. In the first two years of the Trump administration, there were 56 school shootings. This is a 141% increase.
Looking at school shootings in relation to region of the country is, like many gun discussions, inconclusive. The prevailing thought might be that school shootings would take place in the more perceived “gun popular” states of the south. However, the data shirks that. In fact, one of the more progressive states in America, California, is responsible for almost 11% of school shootings. Admittedly, California has the largest population in the United States.
Where the school is located appears to play a negligible role in school shootings. Between 2009 and 2018, about 44% of the shootings took place at an urban school, 40% at a suburban school and 14% at rural schools. At the same time, the educational facility targeted is not negligible; about 66% of the schools were high schools.
While race and religion play a role in mass murders, those are not motivating factors in school shootings. In other words, school shootings are not typically racially or religiously inspired. In fact, it’s mostly white schools who have the most school shootings. They’re also the most deadly, with an average of three people dying.
One repeated talking point from the gun control lobby is that the Second Amendment was written at a time when no one would have foreseen the types of guns we have today. The guns available to purchase for the majority of Americans, under the auspices of self-defense, are not dissimilar from those carried by active combat soldiers during wartime.
That seems unlikely to change. In 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie (at first sight), to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
Not to mention that, since 2000, the only laws that were enacted or expired were of benefit to the gun advocates. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban became law in 1994. The law “banned semi-automatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices (clips).” Unfortunately, after being enforced for ten years, the law expired in 2004.
That same year, 2004, saw the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act voted into law. This granted “current, and former, law enforcement officers the right to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of state or local laws.”
In 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act became law. This law “prevents firearms manufacturers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.”
On the contrary, in February of this year, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 passed the US House of Representatives. Despite its title, the bill squeaked by, mostly along party lines. If it becomes law, it would close the loophole that only made licensed gun dealers conduct a background check. The bill mandates background checks be performed on all gun sales, including private sales, like those at gun shows.
Advocates of the bill say that it’s a big step forward. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Representative Mike Thompson, referred to the bill as “historic”, and that the expanded background checks would “help save lives”.
Opponents of the bill fear that it will prohibit law abiding citizens from getting a gun. Republican Representative Representative Steve Scalise, severely injured during a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, said the bill would “strongly infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens”.
While the House of Representatives approved the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, it now waits for Congress to approve it. Given the current party disparity there, the absolute inability of the legislative arm to unite behind anything, and the divisiveness of the topic, it faces an uphill battle for approval. However, even if approved, President Trump has signaled that he would veto it.
According to a poll from Quinnipiac University in January of 2019, 56% of Americans support stricter gun laws, 92% support background checks and 52% feel America would be less safe if more people carried guns. In short, it appears like Americans want, at the very least, to have a discussion about gun control.
Given the legislative malaise around gun control, it’s evident that the legislators don’t appear to want that. Even though those very legislators are supposed to represent their constituents.
Despite mass murders and school shootings increasing, the needle on gun legislation remains unmoved. Even in casual conversation, the mention of any gun dialogue will prove inflammatory, regardless of your political ideology. In all likelihood, even after this past nine days in El Paso and Dayton, and Brooklyn and Gilroy before that, gun discussion will further polarize, and likely paralyze, America. Historically, that’s been the case.
In the meantime, the month of August is the peak back to school season in the United States. In light of recent events, it will force school administrators to revisit their “active shooter” plans. This is a reality in American schools. These plans are routinely tested in American schools and treated the same as fire drills.
Without any discussion, at the very least, the data indicates that there won’t be a decrease in mass murders or school shootings this year.
In fact, all the data points to just the opposite.